In the face of the Trump Administration’s controversial stance on immigration, seventh grade students walked in the shoes of immigrants who arrived in America through Ellis Island over one hundred years ago in search of a better life in the land of opportunity.
“Forty percent of all Americans have a relative who traveled through Ellis Island,” junior high teacher and Immigration Day coordinator Mrs. Leslie Porges said. “[The students] should know what that was like. The vast majority of our school population has immigrant ties, so it’s especially relevant here.”
Students began their journey in the morning as they waited for a ship to ferry them across the Atlantic to Ellis Island, where immigrants to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s were processed. In lieu of a ship, however, seventh graders boarded several buses in the 2000 parking lot. After circling around Broward Blvd, representing the journey across the Atlantic common for immigrants, students landed on Ellis Island (the school gym).
American Heritage’s “Ellis Island” posed obstacle after obstacle for the incoming immigrants, similar to the difficulties faced by early American migrants. These included language barriers, medical check ups and money and marketable skill assessments.
“This was definitely my favorite part, even though we got quarantined at the medical station,” seventh grader Yulene Oyarbide said. “The doctors gave us M&Ms as medicine.”
Once cleared to enter the country, the seventh grade immigrants were assigned classrooms to “work” in across campus as their first “job.” Completing this task was their ticket to a large lunch buffet.
“My family for Immigration Day had to go to the tennis court first, and we helped pick up tennis balls,” seventh grader Devin Naganooli said. “Later, we went to kindergarten, and I helped kids learn how to multiply and do basic math.”
After a hard day’s work experiencing the life of a first generation American immigrant in the early 1900s, students were treated to a wide array of food options for lunch. Later, a campus-wide scavenger hunt, meant to mimic the passport-stamping process, ensued.
“We had a paper with clues, and we had to find different places at school where teachers and parents would stamp our papers to show we’d done it,” seventh grader Alexander Freeman said. “Some of the winners even got gift cards. It was hard, but it was my favorite part of the day.”
Once the scavenger hunt concluded and the final bell rang, seventh graders in full immigrant attire streamed out of the gym, chattering excitedly about their day.
“It was a great experience, and I hope the school does more things like this,” Oyarbide sad.